Michele Borba: Parenting Alert-Fashion Magazines Affect Our Daughters’ Physical & Emotional Health

by | Oct 16, 2009 | The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

Warning:  I’m ticked–or just darn-right over-the-top disgusted–about two recent events in the fashion world.

First up there was top fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld’s attack on the women’s magazine, Brigitte decision to start using “normal-size women” for models instead of the pencil-thin variety. Such a concept, eh? Well, here was Lagerfeld’s comment: “These are fat mummies sitting with their bags of crisps in front of the television. No one wants to see round women.”  Starting to get a little riled? Keep reading….

Then there was last week’s equally disturbing incident involving Ralph Lauren’s fashion house. RL and company finally apologized for doctoring one of their advertisements, which had an already stick-thin model look even—if this is even possible–thinner. Did you see that picture???? AHHH!

For some reason our culture just loves the pencil-thin look—and it’s everywhere. When’s the last time you flipped through a fashion or celebrity magazine? Only one body type is flaunted: thin, thinner, or thinnest. Make no mistake those images do influence our daughters’ eating habits.

REALITY CHECK: A five-year study of 2516 teens by the American Psychological Association found that girls who frequently read those dieting and weight loss articles are far more likely to fast, vomit, or use laxatives to lose weight. In fact, the data proved that the more frequently a girl reads those fashion magazines, the more likely she is to resort to extreme weight control behaviors.

And it appears far too many girls are partaking in extreme measures to achieve this absurd unhealthy, “unnormal” appearance  to achieve “the thinner the better” look.

While researching eating disorders for my book The Big Book of Parenting Solutions I discovered scathing statistics. Here are just a few of those troubling trends about American children and their attitudes about their body image that should sound an alarm:

At least ten percent of all adolescent girls now suffer from eating disorders. The disease has no boundaries: male or female, young or old, urban or rural, Catholic or Jewish, black or white. Boys now make up about 30 percent of younger children with eating disorders. And the rates are only increasing. Children as young as six these days are diagnosed with eating disorders. Over ten years ago 34 percent of high school girls thought they were overweight; 90 percent believe they are today.

Here’s more troubling news:

  • Half of girls eight to ten years old and one-third of boys are unhappy with their size
  • 42 percent of six through eight-year old girls want to be thinner
  • 40 percent nine year olds have been on a “diet” and nine percent have vomited to lose weight
  • 51 percent of nine-ten year old girls feel better about themselves when dieting.
  • Eighty-one percent of ten year olds fear being too fat
  • 30 to 55 percent of girls start dieting in middle school. Preteen girls struggling with low self-esteem are particularly vulnerable to images of thin models and celebrities


It’s time to recognize just how destructive this super-thin obsession has on our daughters and how it undermines self-esteem and encourages eating disorders.

And then we must make a concerted, collected pledge to help our girls develop healthier attitudes about their body for their physical as well as emotional health.

Here are a few beginning parenting solutions to help our daughters (and don’t forget our sons):

Monitor the media your child consumes a bit closer (and make sure those bodybuilding magazines do not consume your son as well).

Limit your child’s access to magazines that promote the “thin-is-better” look and get her a subscription to healthier alternatives.

Teach your child to be media literate and resist the ways television, movies and magazines portray underweight women as “glamorous,” and muscle-bound men as “all-powerful.”

Talk frankly about the unglamorous reality of eating disorders (damaged teeth; hair loss; osteoporosis, brittle fingernails, as well as even possible death).

And while you’re at it, put down those celerity and fashion magazines with those covers are plastered with skinny pop stars and model. Your child is taking notes.

But most important: please help your child find healthier alternatives and help her learn to love herself from the inside-out.  

For more research-based tips to turn around this troubling trend,  healthier new habits to teach our kids, how to recognize the signs of eating disorders, and the latest scientific findings refer to The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries in the chapters on Eating Disorders, Perfectionism, Role Models, and Dress and Appearance.

Sources for this blog:

Statistics on eating disorders in girls: D. Schlass Saliman, “Catch It Early,” Working Mother, Oct. 2007, pp 228-231.


Boys now make up 30 percent of younger kids with eating disorders: C. Poirot, “Too-thin Kids,” Star-Telegram, Sept. 17, 02.

1995 34 percent of high school age U.S. girls thought they were overweight; today 90 percent do: H. Brubach, “Biblio File; Starved to Perfection,” The New York Times, Apr 15, 2007.

Half of girls eight to ten years old and one-third of boys are unhappy with their size; 40 percent of fourth graders have been on a “diet” once in a while: “BodyWise,” Statistics, May 3, 2008,  http:www.girlpower.gov/girlarea/BodyWise/eatingdisorders/statistics.htm

Statistics about children wishing to be thinner; dieting; feeling better about selves when dieting: M. Maine, Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies, Gurze Books, 2000.